A 1949 British Black Comedy from Ealing Studios, starring Sir Alec Guinness, Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson, Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness and Alec Guinness (who plays eight members of the D'Ascoyne family, including an elderly suffragette).Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini is the son of the daughter of the Duke of Chalfont and a poor Italian opera singer. Infuriated by the mésalliance, her family, the D'Ascoynes, denies any knowledge of Louis' existence, and when his mother dies, will not even grant her burial in the family vault. Louis formulates a plan to kill all the members of the D'Ascoyne family in various ridiculous ways in order to gain what he sees as his justified revenge and place at the head of the D'Ascoyne family. Meanwhile, Louis' childhood sweetheart, Sibella, is laying her own schemes for advancement...though Louis' attractive cousin Edith stands in her way.The movie has a very dry, ironic tone to it, but there are some moments of complete silliness. For instance, Louis kills one of the D'Ascoynes by shooting an arrow at her hot air balloon (and then reciting a humorous variation on the Longfellow poem "The Arrow and the Song").Based on the 1907 novel Israel Rank by Roy Horniman where the eponymous character is half-Jewish rather than half- Italian. The film changed Israel's name and heritage because the film had a Rank (J. Arthur) as its producer and a film about a half-Jewish serial-killer wouldn't have gone down very well so shortly after the fall of the Nazi Regime in Germany, though the book itself is not anti-Semitic.Adapted into The Musical in 2014 as The Gentleman's Guide To Love and Murder, nominated for 10 Tony Awards in its Broadway run.
This movie provides examples of:
Adaptation Distillation: Quite a few things are taken away (mostly relatives/victims) and a few things added; the twist ending being the biggest thing. But the book is over 400 pages long so some changes were bound to be made.
Chalfont is Hammerton in the book and the d'Ascoynes are the Gascoynes.
Aristocrats Are Evil: Though some of the D'Ascoynes seem less bad than others and Lord Ascoyne D'Ascoyne the banker actually seems like a nice guy — hence Louis's relief that he dies of natural causes and therefore doesn't have to be murdered. Young Henry is also an amiable doormat - Louis comments that "he seemed a very pleasant young fellow, and I regretted that our acquaintanceship must be so short." Doesn't stop Louis from killing him and stealing his wife, of course. Then we have Louis...
Upon his accession to the Dukedom, Louis' speech to his people makes it seems as though he would be a Benevolent Boss.
Although, what with murdering at least 7 people (6 D'Ascoynes, young Ascoyne's mistress, and who knows how many other people with that bomb), it could be argued that he's become a straight example of this.
Asshole Victim: Many of the D'Ascoynes. Especially Young Ascoyne, who gets Louis fired from his job.
Best Served Cold: Louis sleeps with his old rival's fiancee on the day before their wedding. As Louis remarks:
"I couldn't help feeling that even Sibella's capacity for lying was going to be taxed to the utmost. Time had brought me revenge on Lionel, and as the Italian proverb says, revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold."
Black Comedy: Doesn't get much blacker than a series of murders to earn a dukedom.
Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: When Louis accuses Sibella of attempting to blackmail him, he saves her the trouble of protesting his wording by adding that 'blackmail' is "an ugly word, but the right one, I think".
Chekhov's Skill: Louis practices archery with Edith D'Ascoyne. It comes in handy later.
Closer to Earth: The 2012 radio play sequel, ''Kind Hearts and Coronets: Like Father, Like Daughter", has an odd example in that Louis's illegitimate daughter Unity is written out of Edith's will, and true to the name of the play, she embarks on the same type of murder spree against six men standing to receive parts of the d'Ascoyne fortune. How does Unity fit the trope, then? She, unlike her father, is clever enough to ensure she's found innocent, hides her memoirs, and gets off scot-free to live Happily Ever After!
The Evil Prince: Louis, apart from the detail that the estate he's scheming for is a dukedom and not a kingdom.
Fate Worse than Death: Louis references the Victorian meaning (a woman who has been seduced) when he kills the younger D'Ascoyne and his mistress: "I was sorry about the girl, but found some relief in the reflection that she had presumably during the weekend already undergone a fate worse than death."
The Film of the Book: The script for Kind Hearts and Coronets was written by British screenwriters John Dighton and Robert Hamer, who very loosely based it on the novel Israel Rank (1907) by Roy Harniman.
Flaw Exploitation: Louis seeks out weaknesses in his opponents and exploits them relentlessly.
Framing Device: Louis, while waiting to be executed for murder, writes a full explanation of how and why he committed the murders by way of explaining how he ended up being arrested for a murder he didn't commit.
Framing the Guilty Party: Louis would have got away scot-free if not for Sibella, angry over being dumped for Edith, implicating him in the murder... of her husband, who actually committed suicide because he was facing financial ruin.
Going Down with the Ship: Admiral Lord Horatio D'Ascoyne saves Louis the trouble of murdering him by being so obstinately wrong-headed that he sinks his own ship, and insists on going down with her even though rescue was at hand.
Goodbye, Cruel World!: Lionel's suicide note is necessary to clear Louis of the charge of his murder. Ironically, this is one of the few deaths in the movie for which Louis is not responsible.
The Hays Code: An alternate ending was required for the US to show the guards discovering Louis Mazzini's written memoirs/confessions to make it clear to the audience that he did not get away with the murders of his relatives. The UK version remains ambiguous on the subject.
How We Got Here: The film opens with Louis in prison, then goes back to show how he got there.
Hypocrite: Louis when it comes to the Victorian meaning of a Fate Worse than Death (a woman losing her virginity before marriage). He uses this to rationalize murdering the mistress of young Ascoyne D'Ascoyne along with D'Ascoyne even though she'd done nothing against Louis and wasn't part of Louis' family vendetta. Yet he has no qualms (instead a great deal of smug satisfaction) at personally "inflicting" the same FWTD on Sibella.
Hypocritical Humor: Louis says he doesn't want to go hunting with the Duke, saying that "my principles will not allow me to take a direct part in blood sports". This, of course, after he's committed multiple murders.
Karmic Twist Ending: A Double Subversion. Louis gets sentenced to death for the one murder he didn't commit. Then he gets acquitted— and then he realizes that he left his memoirs (which describe his real murders) in his cell.
Nice Hat: Sibella has a great collection of these.
Not So Final Confession: Louis passes the night before his execution writing a full confession to set the record straight about who he killed and why. Minutes after finishes, the news arrives that evidence has turned up exonerating him, and he's not to be executed after all.
Oh Crap: Louis' reaction when he realizes just what they mean by his "memoirs".
Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Ascoyne D'Ascoyne takes his mistress punting, although his intentions are anything but chaste. When he moors his boat to have his way with her, Louis unties it; causing Ascoyne and his mistress to be swept to their deaths over the weir.
Pretty in Mink: Sibella and Edith wear some furs, including a huge fox wrap Edith wears at Louis's trial.
Quick Nip: Variant version— Henry d'Ascoyne hides his drinking from his teetotaler wife by keeping it among the chemicals in his photographic darkroom. Surprisingly, he is not offed by Louis putting actual developing fluid in his "developing fluid".
"I shot an arrow into the air. She fell to Earth in Berkeley Square."
Running Gag: At one point in the movie, someone speaks to Louis about "a matter of some delicacy". Louis remarks in voiceover that whenever someone talks about a matter of some delicacy, they're usually euphemistically referring to a matter of extreme indelicacy. Throughout the rest of the movie, people talk about "matters of some delicacy".
Shout-Out: After his last-minute reprieve, Louis quotes one of Macheath's lines from The Beggar's Opera, another black comedy with a villain protagonist who gets a last-minute reprieve from hanging.